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Puppets are powerful literacy tools

Daisy of Pioneer Valley Books at Mary Meyer

A colleague and I took my dog Daisy and drove up to Vermont to visit Mary Meyer Stuffed Toys. They are working on designing our very own Jack and Daisy stuffed dogs to accompany the Jack and Daisy books. We thought seeing Daisy in real life would be inspirational. (Jack hates riding in the car so he got left at home!)

Mary Meyer gave us a tour of the company. My favorite part of the tour was the back room with all the old and rejected stuff toys. Steve, a toy designer, artist, and grandson of Mary Meyer, showed me several puppets that never made it to store shelves. To my surprise, he told me that puppets are on a decline in the stuffed toy market.

“WHAT?!” I exclaimed. “Kids don’t like to play with puppets anymore?” 

“No,” he told me sadly.

“Umm, they want video games,” I guessed.

“Yes,” he told me. He confessed that even his own children prefer video games to puppets. He pulled out a cute alligator puppet with a huge, pink mouth and big, white teeth. I wondered what child could resist playing with that alligator? How sad that the alligator is not in the Mary Meyer catalog but has been relegated to the factory back room for rejected toys!

Yikes! We must bring back puppets because puppets are powerful literacy tools! Here's why:

1. Using puppets for creative play inspires storytelling. As children play together with puppets, they will naturally begin to use them to make up stories.

2. Using puppets will strengthen oral language skills, which we know plays an important role in learning to read.

3. After listening to or reading stories, puppets can be used to retell stories. This practice helps strengthen comprehension skills.

Educator and author Susan Stephenson writes in her blog, The Book Chook, about how to include puppets in your literacy toolbox. She writes, “I believe they’re powerful because they allow kids to articulate thoughts and feelings otherwise suppressed. They’re also wonderful for linking literature with storytelling.”

A research article [MS word file] published on PuppetsProject.com describes primary school teachers in London who have been using puppets as a stimulus in their classrooms to provide more opportunities for more productive talk in science lessons. The article describes some of the ways teachers have used puppets in the classroom during the first phase of the research. The teachers have noticed that their classes have become more animated when the puppets join in the lesson. The children want to talk to the puppet and hear what the puppet has to say. When children were asked what they thought about the puppets they said that lessons were "more fun" and "more active and lively." One child reported that it "inspired my imagination."

You don’t have to buy puppets for your classroom. There are lots of instructions out on the web for how to make them. Sock puppets are easy, and children can have fun making their own. Danielle's Place includes some very fun puppet examples.

An Edutopia article describes classrooms and the changes teachers have experienced after using puppets. The teachers have been inspired by a website called Puppetools that provides loads of ideas about how to make and use puppets in classrooms.

Let's make puppets popular again by filling our classrooms with them!

Happy Teaching,

Michele Dufresne